The Issue - Energy consumption

3rd December 2010 at 00:00
Councils are to be charged for carbon emissions, and some costs are likely to be passed on to schools - so cutting energy use is more vital than ever

Schools guzzle gas. And electricity. They produce 9.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases every year. From 2012, schools could be made to pay for their emissions, but by taking a fresh look at your energy consumption there is no reason why you cannot save enough money to cover the new bills - and turn a profit.

First, the bad news. The CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, parts of which came into effect earlier this year, was originally conceived as a trading initiative whereby local authorities would buy a carbon allowance. If they managed to cut emissions, they would get some, or all, of the money back. But everything changed in the October comprehensive spending review. From 2012, authorities will pay a set amount - around pound;12 per tonne of carbon produced - and there will be no refunds.

Authorities are likely to pass on some of those costs to schools. Individual bills based on energy consumption are one possibility, and could take account of efforts to reduce emissions. But that would be costly to administer. It is more likely that authorities will charge schools according to their size, meaning an average primary will pay around pound;1,000, and an average secondary around pound;4,000.

Bills are never much fun, especially during a budget freeze. But as Jake Reynolds of the Sustainable Development Commission points out, schools can more than meet these charges if they become energy aware. "For many schools energy is the biggest non-staff expenditure," he says. "A large secondary can run up a bill of pound;150,000 a year - so cutting that in half releases a considerable sum of money."

At Okehampton College in Devon, staff have done just that. A few years ago the combined gas and electricity bill was pound;120,000. This year Keith Webber, community technology co-ordinator, hopes to get it down to pound;60,000. And Okehampton's biggest savings have come not through their solar panels but thanks to simple measures such as switching off lights, closing windows and shutting down computers. "If you save a penny an hour that is pound;100 a year," says Mr Webber. "If 100 people save a penny an hour, that is pound;10,000 a year."

Of course, it will be unfair if an energy-efficient school like Okehampton ends up paying the same CRC bill as an average secondary. But linking bills directly to consumption would also be unfair - penalising schools with old buildings.

The good news is that there is no legal obligation to reduce your emissions. Nor will Ofsted judge you on the size of your carbon footprint. And as Mr Reynolds points out, you do not have to be in a well-insulated room to teach children about insulation. "In the long-run," he insists, "forming good behaviours in young people will have more impact than the actual carbon savings a school is likely to make."

Boosting efficiency

- Carry out a survey of your building. The Carbon Trust offers a free survey for schools with an annual energy bill of more than pound;50,000.

- Re-invest saved money in better windows, radiators and insulation.

- If you want to install solar panels or wind turbines, check out grants at

- Energy use only makes up 40 per cent of schools' carbon emissions. The "embedded" carbon in purchased items accounts for 40 per cent, while travel accounts for almost 20 per cent. df,

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